Welcome to my EyeWrite blog. Its purpose is to engage, inform and discuss a wide variety of topics with an emphasis on blindness and visual impairment. Please drop by regularly to read and respond to my posts.
Welcome to my EyeWrite blog. Its purpose is to engage, inform and discuss a wide variety of topics with an emphasis on blindness and visual impairment. Please drop by regularly to read and respond to my posts.
I’d heard of it a while back, but it was one of those topics that simply passed me by … until recently that is…
I love listening to music, but I’m a bit fussy about what I listen to it on. Yes I have portable MP3 players, Apple products, and hifi separates. I have CDs, minidiscs (believe it or not,) and my entire collection catalogued on my computer. But it is the latter vault I muse most, primarily because it is so convenient to find what I want to play, when I want to play it. And so, over recent months, I started to take an interest in what Sonos was all about.
Sonos is a brand, but more than that, it is an eco-system that allows you to mix and match their peripherals, depending on your listening needs. The Sonos range comprises three different sizes of speaker, a Playbar for your TV, a sub-woofer if you need it, the Connect which turns your existing hifi setup into a wireless streaming system, a ConnectAmp for those starting out, and a Boost to help with your network signal if required. It supports a whole raft of streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Tidal, and lets you stream your own music collection too. Using the Sonos Controller app on iOS, Android, Windows or Mac, you can add new peripherals as you buy them, designate a room for each device, and even have different rooms playing different things using your Sonos equipment. You see, Sonos speakers are not just any speakers. They are wireless, and give you the opportunity to be flexible in and around your home. And I haven’t even mentioned their sound quality yet!
So, as I became more and more interested in the Sonos phenomenon, I purchased a book over the Christmas holiday by Jonathan Mosen, himself totally blind and a Sonos addict. The book really helped me to understand what Sonos is, how to get the most from it, and what I needed to do if I purchased any of their units. You can buy Sonosthesia from
Sonosthesia costs $24.99, and is worth every penny if you are thinking of making a Sonos purchase, or you simply want to understand what it’s all about.
It was my birthday on 10th February, and I was overjoyed to receive a Sonos Play5 speaker from my husband. This is the top-of-the-range speaker in the Sonos line. Martin knew I had become fascinated with the brand, and figured I would enjoy listening to it once I had set it up. How right he was!
Setup was frankly a breeze. I read the chapter on how to configure my speaker in Jonathan’s superbly written book, downloaded the Sonos Controller app from the App Store, and had it up and running in no time. I decided to place my Play5 in my little office upstairs where I spend a lot of my day. Until that point, I had kept an open mind about what Sonos would sound like since it is a very subjective experience. But I wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t get over how easy it was to work with the app, and being able to access my iTunes music library so quickly. But I also wanted to access my own collection, so installed the Sonos Controller application for Windows, together with Sonos scripts from
Adding the scripts makes my JAWS screenreader read the various controls within the application so much better.
So, with apps installed and setup complete, I was ready to rock and roll. But why stop at one? So taken was I with my new birthday present that I decided I wanted a pair. While the Play5 is stereo, depending on which way you position it, I wanted the depth of separation I am used to enjoying on my hifi system. That meant having a serious conversation with my wallet. In case you didn’t know, Sonos gear is incredibly expensive, currently not helped by the weakening pound against the dollar. But I stretched my piggy-bank enough to purchase a second Play5 to make the pair. Again, setup was so easy, following a few simple prompts to pair them. That will have to do for a while, but what a way to be introduced to this awesome brand!
If you are interested in the potential Sonos undoubtedly has, you can visit plenty of outlets such as John Lewis, Currys PC World, Richer Sounds, or any good hifi retailer. If you know what you want, then of course you can shop online from the likes of Amazon, or even purchase from the Sonos website.
More than £800 is a lot of dosh in anyone’s language to pay for a pair of speakers, but the Play range really offers a lot of versatility. And, even more appealing for me is the fact that the apps are so accessible. Well done Sonos!
This post might be slightly controversial, but it is my take on the subject, and I make no apology for coming across as perhaps being a little negative. I am generally a hugely optimistic person, but this is one subject where a bit of realism is required in my view.
Millions of people do it every year, sometimes even more than once. But arranging a holiday if you are blind can be a bit of a nightmare, particularly when you and your partner are without any useful vision. For us, staying at home is our ideal holiday, and here’s why…
WHERE TO GO
I guess the first thing to decide is where to go for a holiday, depending on your budget, of course. What sort of help will you get? Will you need a sighted guide? What is accessibility like where you want to stay? Will the excursions/activities suit your requirements? What assistance will you need to book? These are some of the questions you will have to ask yourself, and that’s before you settle on a destination and worry about getting there.
Once you have decided where to go, your next hurdle is organising travel. Many airline websites are frankly diabolical to navigate when you have to rely on a screenreader. And if you want to take some access tech with you, such as a Braille display, you need to make sure airport staff handle it appropriately because most of them don’t know how delicate a Braille display really is. You also need to organise assistance at the airport, train station or ferry terminal and, with the best will in the world, who you get to help you can be a mixed experience. Now I can vouch for this as I travel by air at least twice a year to see my family in Scotland. Using websites like EasyJet or Flybe is a complete nightmare, they are just not developed adequately for screenreaders which, in this day and age, is a disgrace! When I arrive at the airport, I am asked to wait for someone to take me through security, then to board the aircraft. I always worry that I will be forgotten and therefore miss my flight. When you have no sight at all, you don’t know your way round the airport to look for assistance, and with time marching on, you feel completely stranded.
GETTING AROUND ON HOLIDAY
So you choose a destination, make travel plans, and arrive in one piece! But how do you get around a strange place with next to no sight once you get there? Some companies can organise a guide to take the pressure off you completely, but this can be extremely expensive when you rightly have to pay part or all of the guide’s costs as well. And if you are brave enough to go abroad, the language barrier can be extremely frustrating when you are trying to make yourself understood.
When you are in unfamiliar surroundings, getting around can be really stressful. If you stay at a hotel, simple things like finding reception, your room, the dining-room or bar is a really big deal. And choosing what to eat from a menu you can’t read yourself is frustrating to say the least.
You can, of course, go with friends or relatives which allows you to travel and experience the sounds and smells of somewhere different. But you don’t want to feel a burden to your companions, especially if they like different things to you.
STAYING AT HOME
Luckily for me, my husband loves the garden, and has absolutely no interest in going away for a holiday. Yes there are places we wish we could visit if we were able to see. But we both love what we have where we live. We have a lovely big garden that is filled with the sound of birdsong, home-grown fruit and veg to eat when it is ripe, familiar surroundings, and our hobbies to pursue when we want to. No, we don’t have fantastic weather in Northern Ireland most of the time, and winter in the countryside can be bleak. But we like being at home with our dog, and are both quite happy to leave the stresses and strains of going away to those who want to. On a fine day, we can sit in the garden reading, or go for a walk. The simplicity of staying at home doing our own thing in our own time, eating what we enjoy when we want to, and going to bed when we feel like it, are all the ingredients we need for our ideal holiday.
Of course, you can say this is a negative outlook, because plenty of blind and visually impaired people enjoy going away with their friends and family, or even on their own. And if this is your take on it, then I say good luck to you. But, for me, I cannot think of anything more stressful than sitting around in an airport, or being confined to a hotel room, relying on other people to get me from one place to another. In good weather – which I grant you is hit and miss – I can be just as happy in the confines of my own home as anyone else who spends a fortune on a cruise or other holiday destination, all without the stress!
It has been great fun, and a wonderful opportunity to interact on air with like-minded technology enthusiasts. But the time has come for me to stand down from what is quite a commitment each week to research content and record Tech Talk. And this is why I have said goodbye as of the 2016 highlights show which goes out over the new year period.
First of all, my great passion in life is writing. I have achieved what has been a life-long dream to become a published author. Thanks to Jonathan Mosen of
I achieved that this month with the release of Braille On Display.
But I don’t want to stop there. I have other plans in the pipeline, so watch this space and see where we are a year from now.
Secondly, and this is my personal view, I think RNIB is taking blind and visually impaired people for granted in encouraging them to give their time for nothing. Shaun Preece and I have worked on Tech Talk for much of 2016 as volunteers, alongside Steven Scott, who is an RNIB employee. It is no secret that the voluntary contribution Shaun and I made this year has boosted the Tech Talk rating to well in excess of 25,000 podcast downloads a week. But we never received a penny for our efforts as volunteers, not even recognition from RNIB. So this began to irk me somewhat, and made me feel unappreciated. Many thousands of people volunteer in one way or another, but there comes a point when you feel you need to stick by your principles.
And finally, I also volunteer for the British Computer Association of the Blind, something that means a lot to me. As BCAB embarks upon new projects in 2017, I want to be a part of that, where we are all volunteers striving for the same goals.
With all the above in mind, therefore, I have decided to concentrate on my writing and BCAB commitments next year. I would like to thank all those who have read my Brown’s Bargains pages on this blog, and who faithfully downloaded the Tech Talk podcast. I wish Steven and Shaun well for future editions, and hope the programme continues to go from strength to strength. But, RNIB, do try to be a little more appreciative of your volunteers or you just might end up losing them!
The final Brown’s Bargains really does offer you some bargains … they are all free!
THE SEEING EAR ONLINE LIBRARY
The Seeing Ear is an online library designed for blind and visually impaired people. It is free to join, and there are hundreds of fiction and non-fiction titles to choose from. You simply complete the online form, answering all the questions, and are then able to download books in plain text or Word formats. You can read these on a device supporting Word or plain text, and of course read in Braille if that is your preferred method. So what are you waiting for? Go to
RNIB TALKING BOOKS
It is now free to join the Talking Books library and receive titles on CD or USB stick from the more than 23,000 fiction and non-fiction books available. You can receive up to six books at a time, and choose what you want to listen to yourself, or have RNIB staff pick titles for you. For more information, including registration, call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999.
Project Gutenberg offers over 53,000 free ebooks: choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online.
We carry high quality ebooks: Most Project Gutenberg ebooks were previously published by bona fide publishers. We digitized and diligently proofread them with the help of thousands of volunteers. For more information, visit
In the final Brown’s Bargains before Christmas, we look at reading subscriptions for those bookworms, or for that last-minute thoughtful gift.
1 Book Monthly Membership
1 credit per month
2 Book Monthly Membership
2 per month
12 Book Annual Membership
12 per year at time of enrollment
24 Book Annual Membership
24 per year at time of enrollment
Kindle Unlimited is a £7.99 per month service which allows you to tap into more than 650,000 titles, many of which have the audio companion to go with it. It allows you to download up to 10 Kindle books at a time, and read them across all your devices. If you try to add an eleventh book, you will be advised to remove one of your existing titles so you can download a new one. There is a 30-day trial, but remember to cancel this if you are not interested because Amazon will charge you for a subscription once that trial ends in the same way music streaming services work.
A text option of daily and local papers, plus a selection of magazines, costs £75.00 per year. These are available to read online, or sent by Email. The audio option of a digest version of papers and magazines is available for download or on CD and USB, and costs £75.00 per year. If you want both options, the total cost is £150.00 per year.
Whether you have children coming over Christmas, or you enjoy a good game with friends and family, here is just a taster…
Braille Shut The Box Game: £24.95, product code GB103, available from RNIB
The object of this fun game is to shut all nine numbers by rolling the dice. The numbered flaps are marked with braille and the game also includes tactile dice for blind or partially sighted players.
During each round, a player repeatedly throws the dice to “cover the tiles” of the box. The round ends when no tile can be covered on a throw and the player counts each successfully covered number as a point for his score.
The goal is to cover all numbers, that is, “shut the box”, which finishes that game. Play continues until each player has completed three rounds, at which time scores are compared and a winner is declared.
Large Print With Braille Playing Cards (in red or blue): £7.99, product code GC11R or GC11U, available from RNIB
Use your imagination and play on your own or with others with a pack of cards that have Braille markings and large print facings. Patience, Pontoon, Round The Clock, and Brag are all games you can enjoy!
Snakes and Ladders, £54.95, available from Cobolt Systems
A beautifully handmade wooden traditional family board game with embossed snakes and ladders. Each square has Braille numbering and the two pegs are shaped differently on top for ease of play. Comes complete with game instructions, a Braille die and a shaking cup. The board is 48cm square.
More goodies this week from Brown’s Bargains as the countdown to Christmas begins in earnest!
Acoustic Battery Tester: product code HA005, £34.95, available from RNIB
This battery tester will help you to find out the current charge of a battery or rechargeable battery through acoustic signals. You can test all conventional batteries. Easy to operate, simply put the battery on the corresponding contacts and you will get the result of the measurement immediately. With a slim, lightweight design it takes up little space and can easily be taken where required to test batteries.
This product includes two AAA batteries. Replacement AAA batteries are available from RNIB (product code 1 x BAT03).
Talking Colour Detector: £88.39, available from Amazon or Cobolt Systems Ltd
• Announces variations of colours i.e. dark, light
• Earphone for private use
• Fully talking product
• Three volume levels
Talking Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer, £24.99, available from Amazon or Cobolt Systems
• Specially designed for Blind and Visually Impaired
• Both inside and outside temperature can be announced
• Alarm can be set to alert of temperatures above or below a certain setting
• Announcements in a female voice
Everyone needs to label something at some point, and Brown’s Bargains this week went in search of some great ways to help you identify items around your home…
Pen Friend Two Labeller: £74.99, product code DL110, available from RNIB
Our best selling audio labeller! Label anything and everything -make audio labels by recording your own voice. This easy-to-use labelling device has tactile operating buttons in high contrast yellow.
– 4GB internal memory – expandable by SD card up to 16GB (not supplied)
– Supplied with 127 mixed size and coloured labels; small round, large round, large square yellow, large square orange. You also receive 3 magnetic recordable discs – ideal for use on tins.
Braille Labeller: £34.99, product code DL65, available from RNIB
Easy to use, hand-held labelling machine for producing braille labels, without needing a knowledge of braille. For use with 9mm and 12mm Dymo tape. (product codes DL104, DL105 and DL106 black) White dial shows alphabet in braille and black print. Produces uncontracted braille and some contractions. Lightweight design made from plastic.
Loc Dots (Clear): £2.79, product code DL16, available from RNIB
One sheet of six tactile dots. Each loc dot measures 9mm by 1mm deep and is transparent and colourless. Small, raised tactile dots to mark the keys on a computer or typewriter keyboard, central heating or hi-fi controls.
Here are some fantastic Christmas gift ideas for your loved ones, or even as a treat to yourself…
Fire HD Eight-Inch Tablet , 16gb: available from Amazon, £84.49
• All-new Fire HD 8, now with up to 12 hours of battery life, 2X the storage, and 50% more RAM for faster performance – made for all day entertainment.
• Fast 1.3 GHz quad-core processor for smooth performance. Rear- and front-facing cameras. Available in four colours.
Comes in 16 or 32gb with additional storage thanks to the Micro SD card slot.
Amazon Echo Dot: available in black or white, £49.99, available from Amazon
• Amazon Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, provide information, read the news,
set alarms and more
• Connects to speakers or headphones through Bluetooth or 3.5 mm stereo cable to play music from Amazon Music, Spotify and TuneIn
• Controls lights, switches, thermostats and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Hive, Netatmo, tado° and others
• Hears you from across the room with 7 microphones for far-field hands-free voice control, even in noisy environments or while playing music
• Includes a built-in speaker so it can work on its own as a smart alarm clock in the bedroom, an assistant in the kitchen, or anywhere you might want
a voice-controlled device
• Always getting smarter – Alexa updates through the cloud automatically and is continually learning, adding new features and skills
Bem Wireless Bluetooth Speaker Band, available from Computer Room Services, £36.00 in various colours
•Battery with about 6 hours of talk time
•Built for use with opular voice recognition calling apps
•Spoken audio caller ID function
•Soft touch wrist band for comfort
•Micro USB port for charging
•Easily connects to Bluetooth devices
•Built in microphone
•Play/pause, answer, skip and reverse buttons
This week, Brown’s Bargains has gone in search of some DAB radios you can use around the home and on the move. Listen up!
Roberts Play DAB/FM Radio With Built-In Battery Charger: £49.99 in various colours, available from Amazon
• DAB/DAB+/FM Wavebands
• Built-in battery charger
• 10 Station Presets
• User changeable soft touch surround (available in a range of colours for separate purchase)
• Headphone socket
Pure Move 2500 DAB/FM Portable Rechargeable Radio: £93.26, available from Amazon
• This compact, light, DAB Digital and FM radio is perfect if you love radio on the move. Looks good, sounds great and has up to 15 hours of portable listening
for you to enjoy
• The move 2500 features 20 Presets for instant access to your favourite stations (10 Digital and 10FM)
• Comes with high quality noise isolating in-ear headphones
• Personalise your music experience with the separate bass and treble control
John Lewis Spectrum DAB/FM Portable Digital Shower Radio: £49.95, available from John Lewis
• Digital and FM, for all your favourite stations
• 3W speaker
• Built-in rechargeable battery with 12 hours life
• Water resistant to IPX4 standard
• On/ off lock setting
• Headphone and micro USB input
• Carry handle
• Responsive volume & tuning dials and clear digital screen